Turning Up the Heat on Affirmative Action Policies: Asian American Student Claims His Race Kept Him out of Princeton

By Galuszka, Peter | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, December 14, 2006 | Go to article overview

Turning Up the Heat on Affirmative Action Policies: Asian American Student Claims His Race Kept Him out of Princeton


Galuszka, Peter, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Conservatives were already basking in the affirmative action ban approved by Michigan voters last month when they scored another national publicity coup in their campaign against racial preferences: A Chinese-American student says he was rejected by Princeton University because he is Asian.

Alleged discrimination against Jian Li, now a freshman at Yale University, has sparked a probe by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. Princeton is accused of rejecting Li because its admissions policies favor Blacks, Hispanics, athletes and the children of alumni.

"Princeton does not discriminate against Asian Americans," says Cass Cliatt, manager for public relations at the university. She says admissions officers look for a variety of attributes that can change from year to year. "We do not believe the case has merit," she adds.

The Michigan vote makes the state the fourth to ban affirmative action policies, following California, Texas and Washington. That victory and the Li case have empowered anti-affirmative action activists, who have now set their sites on other states. Efforts to eradicate affirmative action in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota and Utah could begin as early as 2008, says Diane Schachterle, director of public relations for the American Civil Rights Institute, the Sacramento, Calif.-based group that tracks and supports efforts to outlaw affirmative action nationally.

"Michigan gives us political impetus and it confirms that the people understand what 'fair' means and they don't want the government to distribute quotas," she says.

At the same time the Michigan initiative is turning up the heat on affirmative action, Li's complaints are touching a nerve among high-achieving Asian Americans. Many have long felt that they are victims of discrimination, being held to a higher standard because Asian students are perceived to excel academically. A 1995 Government Accounting Office review of the Office of Civil Right's handling of discrimination cases involving Asian Americans noted that "Asian Americans fried a higher percentage of complaints involving admissions issues than other minority groups."

"Asian Americans have faced racial discrimination in college admissions, and it's quite possible they continue to face racial discrimination in the form of informal maximums" says Frank Wu, dean of the Wayne State University Law School. "The question, however, is what is causing this outcome? In the past, it has been preferences favoring White applicants. Yet officials have blamed affirmative action. …

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